The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense played two different games on Sunday. For about 35 minutes of regulation, Tom Brady looked as good as ever. He diced up the Packers defense every which way and even caught them with a last-second deep touchdown to round out the first half. Everything Brady touched turned to gold for those two quarters and change.
Brady then suffered an uncharacteristic collapse in the second half, tossing three picks over a span of seven pass attempts. The last of the three was not really his fault given the running back's blown protection assignment, but it's rare that Brady coughs up the ball three times in a half like that regardless of the circumstance.
The silver lining for the Bucs is that the first half was a lot more "real" than the second half. Brady's other two picks in the second half were straight-up misfires -- not missed reads or particularly well-executed defensive calls, just poor throws from Brady. The first was a 50-50 back-shoulder ball he left well too far inside, while the other was a crosser to Mike Evans that Brady put too high and bounced off of Evans' fingertips.
Call me crazy, but I have a hard time believing Brady is going to continue simply misfiring. He doesn't tend to do that very often or for very long. Rather than worry about Brady's accuracy moving into the Super Bowl, the Bucs can take a victory lap on how well they called and executed their offense for the first 35 minutes.
As is typical of a Brady offense, the Bucs did well to give their quarterback man-vs.-zone indicators to help him get to work. Whether it was shifts, motions, personnel packaging, or alignments, head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich were in their bag finding ways to clear up the picture for Brady. The Packers defense was without answers in the first half.
Brady's first throw of the day was one of his most memorable. On third-and-4, Brady found Evans with a beautifully placed fade ball down the left sideline. Thanks to some help from the offensive structure, it was easy for Brady to identify the best matchup and let it rip.
The Bucs start in 2x2 with wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) split out to the right. Before the snap, Brady shifts Godwin over to the left slot, changing the formation to a trips look with a "nub" tight end on the other side. Green Bay is playing with a "corner's over" principle, though, which means their cornerback (Jaire Alexander, 23) manned up on Godwin will follow him across the formation. Brady now has a pretty solid indication that the Packers will be in man coverage.
Couple Alexander following Godwin across the formation with a clear one-high safety look and Brady can confidently bet on Cover-1 here. Versus Cover-1, where the defense is playing man across the board with no deep help on the sidelines, throwing any one-on-one route to a guy such as Evans (13) versus Chandon Sullivan (39) is a mismatch every quarterback will take every time. Credit to Arians/Leftwich for providing information, and credit to Brady for capitalizing on it with a good throw.
Some of the Bucs' coverage indicators were rolled out even simpler than that. In this clip, tight end Cameron Brate (84) is flexed out wide to the bottom of the screen. Safety Adrian Amos (31) is lined up directly across from him with no split-safety help over the top. The same is true at the top of the screen, where linebacker Christian Kirksey (58) is lined up across Ronald Jones (27) outside. There is technically nothing stopping the Packers from playing zone here, but no defense really wants a linebacker and a safety handling deep thirds or quarters on the outside. Brady can again assume man and pick his favorite matchup, which happens to be Brate for a solid 5 yards on second-and-6.
Tampa Bay's offensive game plan boiled down to more than just giving Brady some simple indicators, though. The Bucs also effectively blended their core rushing concepts and formations together with their play-action passing game for a couple of key completions, one of which went for a touchdown.
Chris Godwin tight to formation. pic.twitter.com/rr3HiGTx9d
— Derrik Klassen (@QBKlassClips) January 27, 2021
All throughout the first half, Tampa Bay came out in formations with Godwin hugged up to the formation next to a tight end. Sometimes Godwin started in that position, other times he shifted to it, and there were a few instances where other wide receivers shifted in next to or behind him. Most of the runs with Godwin in this position were duo concepts, but they also hit the Packers with a counter concept away from Godwin in the red zone. Many of these runs also seemed to be checks (or "kill" calls to get to a secondary play) from Brady, but it's still important that this is how they chose to attack the Green Bay front.
Midway through the second quarter on a third-and-2, the Bucs motioned Godwin to a hugged-up position behind the tight end again. Seeing as Green Bay had been swarming on this stuff all day and keeping the Tampa Bay run game down, the Bucs had to know that the Packers would continue to play aggressively against those looks. As intended, the sell on the run fake works, allowing Godwin to slip out over the top for a loose corner route after masquerading as a blocker. Easy money for Brady and the crew.
Early in the third quarter, the Bucs got the Packers biting on a duo look again, this time freeing up Brate on a pop pass. Godwin was not involved for this score, but the Bucs did come out with a sixth offensive linemen to the play side, further helping sell the illusion of running duo to that side.
Just like the Godwin play, Brate works free past Packers defenders selling all the way out for the run. By the time the safety realizes Brate's path to the second level is a means to get to the end zone and not to block, it's too late.
In both this play and the last, the full-blown run action with blockers moving forward (as opposed to many play-action plays which feature the offensive line hopping into pass-pro despite the fake hand-off) goes a long way in selling the intended route. Of course, this can mean the pass pro is prone to a bust, but the play is already betting on that single route breaking open anyway. The call is banking on the structure of the offense being convincing, not the quarterback being able to read a concept out. When the play calling is going as well as it was for the Bucs against the Packers, well, it's a good bet to make.
The Bucs are going to need their offense to be rolling like this again versus the Chiefs. Making that happen against Steve Spagnuolo and a fairly talented Chiefs defense will be a tougher task than beating up on the Packers, but there is no sense in trying to count out the GOAT. Tampa Bay's offense has plenty in the arsenal and Brady is as capable as any at executing it.